Sunday, 9 September 2012

Solid Agateware 1730 - 1760

This post is for Gerry,  the only person I don't feel guilty about continually bombarding with handfuls of my latest finds and old treasures - as she takes as much or even more delight in them than I do.

I love these pieces and have found only two in what is now almost  a year of mudlarking. When I picked up the first large shard, I presumed it was from the 1950s. Searched long and hard to identify their clan, finally getting there in the last few weeks. Less surprised that these finds are really old, in this case 250+ years, than I used to be.

Thames Mudlarking Find: Solid Agateware shard. 
As the post heading reveals they are are solid agateware named after the polished technicolour stone 

Banded Agate (Wiki) 
The stunning decoration characteristic of solid agate is achieved by rolling together sheets of different coloured clay. It looks as though the layers sometimes varied in thickness. On compression some would squash through the original neat lines. The large blocks of clay were then sliced to expose the layering and moulded into forms. Additional techniques must have been used to create the arcs of lines seen on many of the mugs and teapots. The way to distinguish solid agate fragments from agate ware which only uses surface marbling is to check whether the lines of colour can be seen throughout the cross section, as below - took me a while to spot that. 
Cross Section of Agateware showing the lines of colour throughout
To preserve the effect objects had to be made in moulds rather than on the wheel. They hadn't perfected the means of hiding the seams of a join, hoping the kalidascope of colour would mask it. The seam can be seen quite clearly down the middle of the fragment below and on the teapot below that. Initially I thought this piece was from the handle of a teapot or jug, it would have been a very straight one. 
Mudlarking Find: Solid Agateware
These two small mudlarking finds tell yet another interesting story about the development of ceramics. Staffordshire was the pottery silicon valley of early 18th century. As tea became cheaper its popularity increased, fuelling the demand for new and innovative teaware.  Dr T Wedgewood of Rowley Pottery Burslem, Staffordshire is credited with introducing solid agate in 1730. He used red and buff clays to give broad veined effects. Thomas Whieldon (1719-95) pottery genius, improved the technique considerably in the 1740s  by adding metallic oxides to white clay to achieve the effect. It was very expensive to make therefore production declined considerably after 1760, so only around for quite a short period of time. Today a small coffee cup will sell for £1,000. 
Thomas Whieldon 1719-95 (Whieldon Genealogy) 
Agate ware coffee mug 1750 (Martyn Edgell antiques) 

Solid Agateware Teapot 1740 - 50 (Victoria and Albert Museum) 

Agateware jug 1755- 60 (V&A) 

1 comment:

  1. I love that stuff - I have only ever had one piece of it - and I found the origins in the V&A. Mine is exactly the same colours as yours, so it might have come from the same pot!